Galle: Team Director Ravi Shastri says the learning curve for the Indian side is over and it's time that the players start winning Test matches abroad by finding ways to get 20 wickets.
India are aiming to win a first series on Lankan soil in more than two decades when the first Test gets underway here Wednesday.
Ravi Shastri with Virat Kohli
"You don't come to a cricket ground to draw a cricket match so you play a brand of cricket where you look to take the game forward and you look to take 20 wickets, that is paramount. You have got to think how you can take 20 wickets to take the game forward and win the game," Shastri said.
"It is extremely important to start winnings games. They have had the learning curve in South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia. They have played a lot of cricket overseas and that experience factor will certainly come into play when they get back to conditions they are familiar with." Shastri also backed skipper Virat Kohli's strategy to field five bowlers.
"And then the fact that you have an additional bowler might just help you close matches that you couldn't earlier.
It's not about getting big runs but about taking 20 wickets. Look at England in the Ashes. It's their depth in bowling that has made all the difference," he pointed out. India's last Test series win in Sri Lanka came back in 1993 when they won a three-match series 1-0. Since then, winning here has been a big question mark. But now the Lankan team is also rebuilding with a lot of new faces around, putting this series in a fine balance.
"I think they had some very good sides in the past and they play very well as a unit and as a team," said Shastri.
"When I came here first in the 80s they won that series 1-0. They had a pretty decent attack. And right through those middle years they had Muttiah Muralitharan who was a massive influence. Of course you have Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara coming in after that, but again Murali was the main guy as it is about taking 20 wickets.
"And he was instrumental with some other spinners in doing that. That's why they have been a force in this part of the world. So it is a big challenge." Shastri said the series will be a good contest between the two young sides.
"This must be one of the youngest Indian teams to come here. If you look at the average age of this side, it will be about 25-26 as opposed to the teams that have come here in the last 15 years. So this is a very young side as well. Sri Lanka is a young side too but you can make up for that in home conditions. So it will be young versus young and it will be interesting," he said.
Talking about the Rohit Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara debate, Shastri said Rohit deserves his place in the playing XI. "Rohit is a class player. It's just a case of him smelling the coffee, spending some time in the middle and getting a start, and then we know what he can do. It could be a good position for him because he has that ability to counter attack and yet at the same time he will have to be tight. If Pujara is in the best five batsmen of the team he will play, if not he doesn't. I am sure he will make a comeback at some point, especially if we are playing only four bowlers."
This policy of five bowlers puts added onus on the lower order then, with the spotlight firmly on Wriddhiman Saha at the number six spot. The Bengal gloves-man hasn't been in the best of form though and it is a bit of a worry going into the series.
"Saha is a very good player and he might have got out cheaply but he has got the temperament to score runs. He batted really well in Sydney to save that Test match in the second innings as well as when he got the opportunity he looked good at the crease. It's converting that start into one big score and giving himself the self-belief that he can perform.
"And it's not just Saha. Each one of those bowlers will have to put a price tag on their wickets. No wicket is free these days and you have to make the bowlers earn those wickets and a lot will be expected from the bowlers," Shastri signed off.
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